What’s in a (Race) Name? A Race and Track for August Belmont

Legends
Creator wins the 2016 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

The history of famous race names is often straightforward and simple, but at times, the details of how a particular race received its name can surprise you. Consider the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, which is the final leg of the Triple Crown and a prestigious race that is often referred to as the “Test of the Champion.” Since the race is held at Belmont Park, it’s natural to assume that the race is named after the track, in much the same way that races like the Santa Anita Derby and Arlington Classic are named for the tracks where they are held. But in fact, this isn’t quite the case.

When the Belmont Stakes was inaugurated in 1867, Belmont Park didn’t even exist—in fact, nearly four decades would pass before the modern home of the Belmont Stakes would be built. Instead, the race was held at Jerome Park, a now-defunct track located in what is now the Bronx.

One of the men who helped fund the creation of Jerome Park was August Belmont Sr., a politician with an interest in racing. Being a prominent social leader, the Belmont name carried some weight in the state of New York, so perhaps it’s not surprising that one of Jerome Park’s first big races—the Belmont Stakes—was named in Belmont’s honor.

Although serving as the track’s president marked Belmont’s first meaningful foray into racing, Belmont wound up embracing the sport and soon managed a powerful racing stable of his own. In 1869, Belmont finished first and second in his namesake race with Fenian and Glenelg, the former being a horse that Belmont bred and the latter going on to be a four-time leading sire in the U.S.

Jerome Park was in action until 1889, the year before Belmont’s death; starting in 1890, Morris Park took up a short-lived position as host of the Belmont Stakes. Then, in 1905, a group of sportsmen led by Belmont’s son, August Belmont II, opened a grand new racetrack in Elmont, New York. Like the Belmont Stakes, the track was named in honor of the elder Belmont, and fittingly, the Belmont Stakes was transferred to Belmont Park that same year, uniting the race and track both named for one of racing’s legends.

The Belmont Stakes isn’t the only prominent race at Belmont named for a racing legend of the past. Let’s stroll down memory lane and recall the people and horses behind a few other Belmont day race names …

Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Stakes at Belmont Park

Originally known as the Hempstead Handicap, this race was renamed in 2002 to honor Ogden Phipps, a legendary Thoroughbred owner and breeder who served for many years as chairman of The Jockey Club. Just a few of the great horses he bred and raced included Buckpasser, Easy Goer and Personal Ensign, each of them champions and Hall of Fame inductees; they also rank No.14, No. 34 and No. 48, respectively, among the best racehorses of the 20th century according to a ranking compiled by BloodHorse.

Grade 1 Just a Game Stakes at Belmont Park

Just a Game (an Irish-bred filly known as “Just a Game II” when racing in the United States) was the champion female turf horse of 1980 after winning eight straight graded stakes races, including the Diana Handicap and Flower Bowl Handicap, two Grade 2 races that have since become Grade 1s. She was almost unbeaten at Belmont Park, with her lone defeat from four starts there coming in the 1980 Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes against males, in which she finished a clear second.

Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park

Woodford “Woody” Stephens trained an impressive list of champions during a Hall of Fame career that lasted for more than six decades. He trained two Kentucky Derby winners (Swale and Cannonade), won the 1982 Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer, and trained the versatile Bald Eagle to win major stakes races on both dirt and turf.

But none of these accomplishments can supersede Stephens’ superlative feat of winning five consecutive editions of the Belmont Stakes from 1982 through 1986. Making the feat even more remarkable, only one of Stephens’ winners—Swale in 1984—was favored to win. So dominant was Stephens in the Belmont that in 1985 he sent out Crème Fraiche and Stephan’s Odyssey to run 1-2 in the Belmont. Needless to say, Stephens’ record of five consecutive Belmont victories is unlikely to ever be equaled, let alone surpassed.

Grade 3 Jaipur Invitational Stakes at Belmont Park

Jaipur won more than his fair share of major races during the early 1960s—in fact, he won the 1962 Belmont Stakes by a hard-fought nose. But it was his unforgettable duel with Ridan in the Travers Stakes that truly earned him a place in history, for the two colts battled for the lead from start to finish and it took a camera to reveal that Jaipur had won by the slimmest of margins.

Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont Park

Jaipur isn’t the only Belmont Stakes winner to have a race named after him this weekend. Also being honored is Easy Goer, who won the 1989 Belmont Stakes by eight lengths in the terrific time of 2:26 flat—the second-fastest winning time in Belmont history. Known for his rivalry with fellow Hall of Fame member Sunday Silence, Easy Goer was virtually unstoppable at Belmont Park, where the wide turns he relished helped him compile an 8-for-10 record over the 1 ½-mile oval. In addition to the Belmont Stakes, he also won the Suburban Handicap, Jockey Club Gold Cup, Woodward Handicap, Champagne Stakes, and Cowdin Stakes (all Grade 1) at Belmont Park.

Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park

As a 2-year-old in 1886, the incredibly fast colt Tremont achieved the seemingly impossible: During a 10-week span, Tremont went undefeated in 13 starts, all of them stakes races, and was never headed at any point in those races. It was an unprecedented display of sheer speed and superiority, though unfortunately, Tremont was unable to return to the races the following year and had to retire unbeaten and virtually untested.

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